IM­RAN KHAN: from play­boy to Prime Min­is­ter

A cricket hero, an in­ter­na­tional play­boy, a po­lit­i­cal dy­namo – Wil­liam Lan­g­ley tracks the tra­jec­tory of Im­ran Khan and pon­ders what his prime min­is­ter­ship will mean for the women of Pak­istan.

The Australian Women's Weekly - - Contents -

In the week that Im­ran Khan be­came Pak­istan’s Prime Min­is­ter-Elect, a young woman, who lived not far from his villa in the dry hills above Is­lam­abad, was ab­ducted, tor­tured with elec­tric ca­bles and beaten to death, al­legedly by her in-laws, who dis­ap­proved of her life­style. Such mur­ders and ex­treme pun­ish­ments of women are so rou­tine in Pak­istan as to barely fig­ure in the daily news rounds, and as Im­ran ap­peared be­fore an ec­static crowd of sup­port­ers to prom­ise “a new coun­try we can all be proud of”, no one thought the is­sue worth rais­ing.

It has been a long road for the for­mer cricket star, play­boy and high so­ci­ety heart-throb, but the list of chal­lenges that now face him is even longer. Prominent among them is de­liv­er­ing on his pledge to im­prove the lives of women in a coun­try where all power re­mains teth­ered to an­cient codes of pa­tri­archy.

At 65, Im­ran has lost lit­tle of the ou­tra­geous good looks that earned him, in his party an­i­mal days, the ac­co­lade of “the world’s most beau­ti­ful man”. The dark mane of hair re­mains lush and wild, the eyes moist and soul­ful, the fea­tures rich with the rugged hand­some­ness that his

ex-girl­friend, model Marie Helvin, de­scribed as “a work of ge­nius”. But the only party cur­rently on his mind is called Tehreek-e-In­saf (Move­ment for Jus­tice), a grass-roots or­gan­i­sa­tion which he founded 22 years ago with the am­bi­tious aim of end­ing the decades-old stitch-up that keeps the coun­try and its 200 mil­lion peo­ple in the hands of a few fam­ily clans and a watch­ful mil­i­tary.

Scep­tics have long scoffed at Im­ran’s ad­mit­tedly vague prom­ises to end the in­equal­ity and cor­rup­tion that run deep in this volatile, nu­clear-armed Mus­lim coun­try, but in July’s gen­eral elec­tion his party achieved an ex­traor­di­nary break­through, win­ning the largest num­ber of seats in the Na­tional As­sem­bly.

When he was sworn in on Au­gust 18, af­ter a month of bick­er­ing about the va­lid­ity of the re­sults, there were tears in his eyes. Ad­dress­ing a group of pre­dom­i­nantly young and fe­male sup­port­ers, he de­clared: “I did not climb here on any dic­ta­tor’s shoul­ders, I do not come from any cho­sen fam­ily. All I have is you and your trust, and I will not be­tray you.”

Be­hind the ex­cite­ment hov­ers the awk­ward ques­tion of which Im­ran now takes charge. Will it be the in­spi­ra­tional

sport­ing hero who led his coun­try to vic­tory in the 1992 Cricket World Cup? Or the smooth-man­nered charmer who mes­merised Lon­don so­ci­ety in the 1980s? Or the wily, wheeler-dealer who, on his route to the top, has cosied up to ev­ery­one from Is­lamic fun­da­men­tal­ists to Wall Street fi­nanciers?

“When you look at Im­ran,” says M. Bi­lal Lakhani, pub­lisher of one of Pak­istan’s lead­ing news mag­a­zines, “you see a mir­ror image of all this coun­try’s beauty and fail­ings. He’s the best and worst of us. He’s vain and op­por­tunis­tic, and when you look at the scale of the prob­lems fac­ing us, he may well be kid­ding him­self, but I be­lieve his intentions are good and he can be the cul­tural spark that be­gins the process of change.”

Oth­ers are less con­vinced. In an in­cen­di­ary book pub­lished shortly be­fore the elec­tion, Im­ran’s sec­ond wife, Re­ham, 45, a for­mer BBC jour­nal­ist, por­trayed him as a hyp­ocrite and phoney whose squeakyky­clean image is a sham. “He thinks he e is God,” says Re­ham, “and he’s com­pletely ad­dicted to his own celebrity,” adding help­fully, “but it’s not my in­ten­tion to dam­age him.”

Im­ran was born into Pak­istan’s gilded elite, the son of a suc­cess­ful en­gi­neer and a so­cially well-con­nected mother. He was ed­u­cated at pri­vate schools in both La­hore and Eng­land be­fore win­ning a place at Ox­ford Univer­sity, where he emerged as a fear­some fast bowler and mid­dle-or­der bats­man, later turn­ing pro­fes­sional and cap­tain­ing his na­tional team through one of its great­est eras – all this while moon­light­ing as a prize adorn­ment of the in­ter­na­tional glossy set, and a prodi­gious se­ducer of beau­ti­ful women.

These days, Im­ran has be­come adept at us­ing his own for­tu­nate life as an il­lus­tra­tion of what he be­lieves to be wrong with Pak­istan.

“Our big­gest prob­lem,” he once told me as an over­head fan stirred the sweaty air in his La­hore of­fice, “is that the priv­i­leged class, of which I’m ob­vi­ously a part, con­trols pretty much ev­ery­thing. We live dif­fer­ent lives li t to th the vast t ma­jor­ity j it of f th the peo­ple, we have our own schools where we are ed­u­cated in English, our own doc­tors and hos­pi­tals who look af­ter us. We live mod­ern, Western­ised lives in the mid­dle of what is ba­si­cally a feu­dal so­ci­ety, and we are ef­fec­tively above the law be­cause we have the money and the con­tacts to get away with any­thing.”

His early for­ays into pol­i­tics proved pop­u­lar but costly. As the na­tion’s favourite son he at­tracted huge crowds, heavy me­dia cov­er­age and in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion, but his op­po­nents and their al­lies in the mil­i­tary took a less favourable view of the glam­orous in­ter­loper, and in­stead of get­ting a share of power, he found him­self un­der house ar­rest.

It was costly in other ways, too. Im­ran blames the col­lapse of his mar­riage to the Bri­tish heiress Jemima Gold­smith on the dirty tricks of his po­lit­i­cal en­e­mies. Jemima was just 21, th the d daugh­ter ht of f billi bil­lion­aire i busi­ness­man Sir James Gold­smith and his ex­u­ber­ant wife Lady Annabel. Cel­e­brated in the Lon­don gos­sip col­umns as the ul­ti­mate “It Girl” and a dar­ling of the fash­ion glossies, Jemima had met Im­ran in a May­fair night­club, and their 1995 wed­ding was packed with the global glit­terati.

“It never oc­curred to me that we’d have prob­lems,” Im­ran told me later. “That’s not the way I try to look at life. I don’t go into things fear­ing that they might go wrong. I was happy, and in love, and I didn’t think the ques­tion of who I mar­ried would mat­ter in the way that it did.”

No one could ac­cuse Jemima of fail­ing to take the role of politi­cian’s wife se­ri­ously. She con­verted to Is­lam, learned to speak Urdu and swapped her de­signer wardrobe for the de­mure shal­war kameez and head­scarf worn by al­most all Pak­istani women. She went out on the stump, threw her­self

into char­ity work and adopted the Mus­lim name “Haiqa”. It wasn’t long, though, be­fore the at­tacks be­gan.

They came first as al­lu­sions to Jemima’s Jewish back­ground. Although she had been raised a Catholic, her fa­ther was Jewish, and in over­whelm­ingly Mus­lim Pak­istan this was enough to plant the idea that she had “en­chanted” Im­ran as part of a plot to weaken the coun­try’s reli­gious char­ac­ter. To at­tack Im­ran per­son­ally was a risky strat­egy, given the crick­eter’s heroic sta­tus, but it soon be­came clear that no such con­straints ap­plied to his young wife.

Im­ran claims that the gov­ern­ment it­self was the source of sev­eral dam­ag­ing sto­ries about her, with news­pa­pers run­ning coded ac­counts of Jemima’s sup­pos­edly deca­dent life as a Western good-time girl.

“It was very dif­fi­cult for her,” Im­ran re­called. “They went for her right from the start and it meant that I wasn’t able to make her a part­ner in pol­i­tics. Jemima’s re­ally a shy and pri­vate per­son and the at­tacks hurt her. The more I ex­posed her, the more they would have gone for her, and I felt I ought to spare her that. What it meant, though, was that we started spend­ing more time apart.”

Af­ter nine years, Jemima re­turned to Lon­don with their two young sons, Su­laiman and Kasim. A di­vorce fol­lowed, but they re­main on good terms. Af­ter Im­ran’s elec­tion, Jemima, who has never re­mar­ried, tweeted: “Af­ter hu­mil­i­a­tions, hur­dles and sac­ri­fices, my sons’ fa­ther is Pak­istan’s next PM. It’s an in­cred­i­ble les­son in tenac­ity, be­lief and re­fusal to ac­cept de­feat. Con­grat­u­la­tions.”

For his part, Im­ran wed Re­ham in 2015, a de­ci­sion he has since called “the big­gest mis­take of my life”, and af­ter split­ting within a year, he took up with Bushra Maneka, a 40-yearold Pun­jabi faith healer, who Im­ran ini­tially in­tro­duced as his “spir­i­tual ad­vi­sor” be­fore re­veal­ing that they had mar­ried. Bushra, who wears a full face veil and rarely ap­pears in pub­lic, pre­sents a per­fect image of con­ser­va­tive reli­gious wom­an­hood,

and much in­trigue swirls around her place at Im­ran’s side.

For per­haps the most fiercely de­bated as­pect of Im­ran’s po­lit­i­cal rise is his com­mit­ment to women’s rights, and how – or if – he will seek to tackle the na­tion’s glar­ing gen­der gap. A re­port last year from the

World Eco­nomic Fo­rum rated

Pak­istan the sec­ond worst coun­try on earth (be­hind only Ye­men) in terms of women’s ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion, em­ploy­ment and po­lit­i­cal en­gage­ment.

Out on the stump, women – par­tic­u­larly younger, ur­ban women – have flocked to sup­port him, of­ten mak­ing up the ma­jor­ity of the crowds at his ral­lies. His op­po­nents have sniffily im­plied that this has more to do with his glam­our quo­tient than his man­i­festo, but the post-elec­tion anal­y­sis con­firms that record num­bers of women turned out to vote – many for the first time – and the ma­jor­ity backed Im­ran.

“We may have the right to vote,” says Na­jma Ali, head of a na­tion­wide cam­paign for women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in elec­tions, “but for all sorts of rea­sons – cul­tural, po­lit­i­cal, geo­graphic – it can be very dif­fi­cult for women to ac­tu­ally cast one, and the fur­ther you go out of the towns, the harder it gets.” What she means is that, in many parts of the coun­try, tra­di­tion dic­tates that women ei­ther don’t vote at all or vote the way their hus­bands tell them to. “But this year was a real break­through,” says Na­jma. “In some ar­eas more women ac­tu­ally voted than men.”

The prob­lem for Im­ran was win­ning the fe­male vote with­out alarm­ing the pow­er­ful con­ser­va­tive bloc, which is deeply sus­pi­cious of such no­tions as gen­der equal­ity. In pub­lic he has spo­ken of the need to bring women into the main­stream and end the bar­barous prac­tices that each year re­sult in thou­sands of mostly poor, ru­ral women mur­dered, beaten, gang raped or driven out of their vil­lages and into des­ti­tu­tion, usu­ally for “im­moral” be­hav­iour. So-called “honour killings” alone are es­ti­mated to cost the lives of 20 women a week, the toll fa­cil­i­tated by an ar­chaic law that al­lows fam­i­lies to pardon the killer.

Yet his de­trac­tors are scep­ti­cal. In the past, Im­ran has de­scribed fem­i­nism as “un­nat­u­ral”, backed the coun­try’s con­tro­ver­sial blas­phemy laws, which are de­ployed with par­tic­u­lar sever­ity against women, and de­nounced Malala Yousafzai, the teenage No­bel Prize-win­ning cam­paigner for girls’ ed­u­ca­tion, as “a CIA agent”. In the July elec­tion, his party man­aged to field only six women can­di­dates, barely meet­ing the five per cent le­gal thresh­old.

“If you are an op­ti­mist, you have to hope that he is try­ing to out­smart the reli­gious con­ser­va­tives,” says au­thor and women’s rights cam­paigner Rafia Zakaria, “but that’s tak­ing a lot at face value, and the real test will be what he ac­tu­ally does. There’s no doubt that a lot of women have put their trust in him, and if he lets us down, I fear that we are head­ing back to a dark and re­pres­sive place.”

At this crit­i­cal time in his life,

Im­ran isn’t keen on be­ing re­minded of his raff­ish past. Some years ago, he fi­nally sold his old Lon­don bach­e­lor flat, us­ing the money to buy 16 hectares of wild hill­side out­side Is­lam­abad, where he now lives sur­rounded by cy­press and rose­wood trees, to the sound of ea­gles call­ing.

“What’s al­ways mat­tered to me is pas­sion,” he says. “Cricket was a pas­sion. Pol­i­tics is a pas­sion. When I was young, I had a great so­cial life, and it was a won­der­ful time for me, but I don’t miss it. I’m hap­pier now, I don’t revel in nos­tal­gia. For me, the past is only to learn from.”

Clock­wise from above: Im­ran had sport­ing prow­ess and good looks; the 1995 wed­ding to Jemima; the Khans at­tend a Lon­don char­ity event.

Top: Im­ran speaks to sup­port­ers of his Tehreek-e-In­saf (Move­ment for Jus­tice) party at La­hore in 2013. Above: Anti-gov­ern­ment pro­test­ers in 2014. That year, Im­ran de­manded the Pak­istani PM re­sign. Last July, his party achieved an ex­traor­di­nary vic­tory.

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